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March 09, 2015

Getting ExperiMental: Meet the Writers of the Square Table

This project is receiving funding from ArtStarts' Artists in the Classroom grants. This blog post was written and submitted by Ahava Shira, the artist who is leading this project along with artist Sam Barlow and Sarah Hook Nilsson at Gulf Islands Secondary School. This post is part of an ongoing series chronicling the progress of select AIC grant recipients.

Once a week on Thursdays, students from Gulf Islands Secondary School and adult volunteers from the Salt Spring community gather around big tables to share our passion for writing and creating. The artist-facilitators invite the students to start from a prompt, whether a quote, poem, story or "word of the day".

To encourage students' self-awareness, self-compassion and resilience, we have written and collaged about our inner warrior, explored what we are most proud of, released thoughts that we no longer need and welcomed new visions into our lives.

No matter what the inspiration, we never know where it will lead us. We put our minds and hearts to the page and begin. We use our own words when we write. When we collage, we choose images from magazines of all kinds along with cut out words. We also use paints, pastels and markers.

We are always guided by the four practices of Writing Alone Together1 —Writing Freely, Reading Aloud, Listening Deeply and Bearing Witness—which create a safe space for creating and sharing our works with each other.

On one particular Thursday, one of us suggested we tell a story orally as a group. As we spoke around the circle, each of us added our piece to the story. Now this was no ordinary story we were writing aloud. This was a tale about ourselves...

The Writers of the Square Table

Once upon a time, although it wasn’t really all that long ago, there was a fantastic circle of wise writers who gathered every week in the same place at the same time in a strange wooden-ceilinged room.

They were the Writers of the Square Table. Instead of weapons, they wielded their pens of glory. Together they held their writing tools high as they fought against the white pages of writers’ block. Along their gallant way they made quite a name for themselves in the small town where they lived.

They wrestled alongside each other, bravely using each other's weaknesses as their advantage. They wrote with their eyes, sowed words and ideas, images and stories with everything they knew. For each warrior knew that every warrior's weakness was their own.

When they used their writing and collaging instruments, they gained power to share their worlds with each other. They shared what they thought through words and pictures.

Side by side they uncovered vulnerabilities and sad days but they got through it.

After we told the story, we reflected on how we made it happen. Then we realized, that how we created the story, is how we do everything in our group. We make it up out of our imaginations. We dare to go we :know not where," until our pens, journals, paintbrushes and images take us there.

And when asked about the effect our writing and creating together has on them at school, some of the writers said:

  • "It's easier to start."
  • "When I start to write an essay, I used to plan more but now I write more freely."
  • "Easier to share my writing now because I'm used to it."
  • "Because you don't feel so vulnerable now because of all the practice."
  • "The critic on our shoulders has been learning to keep quiet."

Now the Writers of the Square Table would like to ask you: How do you wield your writing tools?

About the Artists: Ahava Shira is a writer, poet and performer and one of two artist/facilitators of Let’s Get ExperiMental, a program whose aim is to strengthen the social and emotional health of youth through intergenerational workshops in creative writing and multi-media storytelling. Her co-facilitator, Sam Barlow is a writer, photographer and multi-media artist. Sarah Hook Nilsson is the coordinator of our program as well as enthusiastic writer and artist.


This project was supported by an Artists in the Classroom grant disbursed by ArtStarts in Schools and funded by BC Arts Council and the Province of BC.

Feeling inspired? Apply for Artists in the Classroom grants to work with professional artists in your own school. The next deadline to apply is May 28, 2015. Learn more at

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